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Hall column: No cats were harmed in the writing of this column

By Sarah Hall
Salisbury Post
Our Lifestyle department has been running an announcement in the paper in preparation for Mother’s Day asking readers to tell us “What’s the craziest thing your mom ever did for you?”
We provided some examples, like standing up for you against a mean teacher or boiling a cat for a science project.
Then we received a letter from a reader planning to cancel her Salisbury Post subscription due to the cat boiling reference.
I admit that, taken out of context, the statement could be misconstrued and regarded as animal cruelty. Since I was the source of that phrase, and since I am a cat lover and owner, I feel I should explain.
My brother, the only boy in the family and oldest child, seemed to enjoy a favored status, at least in the opinion of my sister and myself. We whined that it wasn’t fair, that he could get away with anything. And we thought our mother would do anything for him.
One night she proved we were right.
My brother had a rather odd high school biology teacher. The man had expected to have an athletic career, but after an injury, he became a science teacher.
Maybe the frustration he felt over this change of plans made him a bit sadistic. He had no qualms about making unreasonable demands on his students.
(He would later prove that the branch of biology he specialized in was botany, since growing marijuana was what led to his eventual dismissal.)
So anyway, rather than have his students dissect frogs like most biology teachers, he ordered a supply of cat cadavers, assigned partners, and bestowed a kitty to each pair.
My brother made a deal with the girl assigned to be his partner. She would do all the writing, and he would do all the cat touching. Once the cats were dissected and their inside parts correctly identified, that should have been the end of the assignment. But not for this teacher.
He then said, as homework, they were to take their cat home, strip it of all its skin and meat, mount the skeleton, and turn it in for a grade the next day.
What made this task even more daunting was the fact that the school’s science fair was that night, and any student who had a project in the science fair, like my brother, wouldn’t be able to start cat-extraction until after that event ended.
My mother was already in bed when my brother came home, cat in tow. He had found my mother’s canning pot and was preparing to start cooking when she got up to see what was going on.
Rather than prevent my brother from proceeding with boiling a formaldehyde-soaked feline in the pot she used to sterilize jars, she allowed it. Then she sat with him well into the night at the kitchen table, helping him pick flesh from the cat skeleton.
If that’s what needed to be done in order for her child to get a good grade, she would do it.
Just as surely as my sister and I thought our mother felt closest to our brother, I feel equally sure that this night, with the two of them huddled together for hours over the cat’s remains, probably cemented that bond even tighter.
According to my brother, few students managed to turn in their skeletons picked clean. And no other had a mother’s help.
This happened about 35 years ago. I asked my mother the other day if she remembered this, and she said she did.
Then she added, “I would do pretty much anything you children asked me to do.”
Immediately I thought, “You mean you’d do anything your son asked you to do,” but I didn’t say it.
Then I thought about my wedding. My mother made my wedding dress and all four of my bridesmaids’ dresses, just like I asked her to do.
I suppose that was pretty nice, too. And not at all gross.
Contact Sarah Hall at shall@salisburypost.com or 704-797-4271. But please do not feel the need to share similar stories. She has a weak stomach and loves animals.

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